I am perfectly healthy; do I still need a well woman exam every year…?

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This is a very common concern women have. But having an annual gynecological exam is an important aspect of responsible preventive health care and ensuring physical and reproductive wellbeing.  Many women think they do not need a physician unless they have a problem. In fact, problems are often first found through an annual exam. Every woman should be aware that diseases such as breast, cervical and ovarian cancer have few obvious symptoms, and earlier detection improves chances of survival. It is important women get annual exam done because it is the time when we not only perform a complete history and physical exam, but also a time when screening tests are ordered, immunizations are given and lifestyle habits are discussed.

Why annual exams are important?

1. BEYOND PAP– Contrary to the belief, the annual exam is not just a pap and breast exam.

– Vaccines: Age and season appropriate vaccines may also be offered during the visit, including human papillomavirus, tetanus boosters, Hepatitis B and flu.

Questions: You should ask any questions about pregnancy, hormones, your menstrual cycle, menopause symptoms and other general health issues.

  Screening tests for osteoporosis, colon cancer and diabetes. Other issues such as birth control methods or preconception counseling, protection from STDs, calcium intake requirements, the need for cholesterol screening, and the importance of regular exercise and eating a well-balanced diet. We can also offer help on smoking cessation.

2. Know your OB/GYN: You will feel more comfortable, if and when you require further treatment, are ready to have a baby or go through other significant life changes.

3. GETTING PAST THE DR. INTERNET: It is very common to feel confused and develop myths after reading so much on internet. But at your annual exam you will get a chance to ask questions and get evidence based answers which will help you make informed decisions regarding your health.

When should the annual exam start?

Annual gynecological exams should begin around age 15. While pelvic exams are rarely required during these first visits, the annual exam helps to establish a doctor-patient relationship. Young women can ask any questions they have about their development and/ or menstrual cycle, methods of birth control and how to protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Most doctors now recommend an annual Pap smear for most women ages 21 and older.

I already had a hysterectomy or I am not sexually active, do I still need the annual exam?

Many women have equated having a Pap smear with having an annual exam when in fact a Pap smear is only a small component of the visit. Women should have a gynecological exam every year whether or not they are due for or need a Pap smear.

What should you expect at your exam?

First, a comprehensive medical history is taken, including a family history to assess possible familial cancer risks. A physical exam is performed, including an assessment of blood pressure, height and weight, a pelvic and breast exam. During the pelvic exam the doctor may do a Pap smear, then check internally to examine the uterus and ovaries. Your doctor will also order a screening mammogram if you are 40 or older. Patients of all ages will be taught to perform monthly self-breast exams. These steps are essential in helping to detect breast cancer. Your doctor will discuss birth control methods or preconception counseling, protection from STDs, calcium intake requirements, the need for cholesterol screening, and the importance of regular exercise and eating a well-balanced diet. They can also offer help on smoking cessation. If you are postmenopausal or otherwise at risk, your doctor will recommend screening tests for osteoporosis, colon cancer and diabetes. Vaccines may also be offered during the annual visit, including human papillomavirus, tetanus boosters, Hepatitis B and flu. You should ask your doctor any questions you have about pregnancy, hormones, your menstrual cycle, menopause symptoms and other 

Who performs the exam and who will be in the room with me?

Your ob gyn doctor or the nurse practitioner will perform the exam. Customarily your doctor and the medical assistant will be in the room.

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